Where are we on basic education?
We realised very late (in 2002) that the right to education for all children from age of six to fourteen years will have to be made a Fundamental Right and accordingly, by the 86th amendment, it was legislated. Thereafter, in 2009, the Central Government passed comprehensive legislation, ‘The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009’ creating mechanism to implement the said right. The Act also made provisions for the children belonging to disadvantaged group and weaker section and all schools, irrespective of it being government-run school or private unaided school, were obligated to take admission of at least 25 per cent of such children belonging to weaker section.
The provisions of the Act became subject matter of challenge by unaided private school in the Supreme Court in the year 2010 and it was decided in 2012 that the said provisions were valid and the private schools cannot claim immunity from the obligations fixed by the law as per 12(1)(c) of RTE except to those minority institutions.
Since the State Governments are obliged to implement the provisions of the Act, in last four years the Government of U.P. appointed about 2.80 lakhs of teachers for Government Schools making the total strength of teachers about 5.30 lakhs for basic education out of which around 2.80 lakhs teachers were appointed/regularised in the last four years, making the State budgetary allocation to Rs 38066 crores in 2016-17 for basic education in comparison to Rs 18,881 Crores in the year 2011-12. As a result, now the pupil to teacher ratio has become 25:1 at primary level and 20:1 at upper primary level which is much better than 35:1 as required in terms of the Act of 2009.
With this huge number of appointment of teachers, we must not forget that the quality of teachers and their sincerity towards this noble work is such that the product of those schools, in majority, have been compelled to become drivers, security guards, and at most, clerks in the establishments which are run by those who do not go to those schools and prefer going to the privately managed and paid schools.
The apathy in the social order is writ large. Despite the Supreme Court judgment that weaker section of the society has right to claim, to the extent of 25 per cent seats in private unaided schools, the said schools adopt all unscrupulous methods to keep the children from weaker section away from their elite surroundings. Once such example is the chain of City Montessory School in Lucknow where the school refused taking 13 students despite two judgments of the Allahabad High Court. The issue of 13 students’ admission could be settled only after the Supreme Court directed the school to take admission on interim basis, but the school is still fighting to replace those students.
In the meantime the government of U.P. has issued various orders to enforce the admission of students of weaker section in school of their choice and largely the government has succeeded in its efforts in last two years. In 2013-14 academic sessions, 60 such students could secure admission in private unaided schools which increased to 3824 in academic sessions 2015-16, and in 2016 the number increased to 11,000. This is a land mark achievement which will further strengthen the mix-up of students coming from different social and economic backgrounds.
It is undeniable that few private schools still carry the mindset where they consider that segregation of rich from the poor will advance their teaching standard or the poor of the country has no right to sit with the rich. This mindset is similar to the concept of ‘separate but equal’ which was abolished by the judgement of US Supreme Court in Brown Vs. Board of Education in 1954 where separate schools for black and white were held to be unconstitutional. We also have no such concept.
Allahabad High Court in 2015 categorised the basic education schools into elite, semi-elite, and common man’s school. And after the pathetic situation in common man’s schools, it recorded that ‘when Officials/Government servants would be required to send their wards for primary education in institutions maintained by the Board, they would become serious enough to look into the requirements of concerned Primary Schools and would ensure that same are made available and Schools are run in good/best conditions and standard, else it may affect their own wards’. This is not a bad idea at all but whether, on this line, the government will be able to implement such direction is seriously doubtful because the entire bureaucracy and policy makers are involved and they would not want their children to go to the school where common men’s children go.
There are judgments of the Supreme Court which mandate that establishing educational institutions are in the nature of fundamental rights. Even then, in my opinion, the Central governments could formulate legal structure wherein the privately managed ‘elite’ system of education be done away with to avoid serious ramifications of creating such deep class divide where majority of the children would turn out as literate without knowledge, and we have not been able to see any considerable change in the mindset of the people, to ensure equality of opportunity. The private schools may be vested in the respective State governments and all the schools would come under the management of the common regulatory board for all purposes.
The affirmative action in India has been taken up on a very large scale for SCs, STs, OBC, etc but it appears that affirmative action is only for the purpose of providing employment. Pathetic situation of basic education in public funded schools would create very deep disparity which would lead to an imbalance in the future generation, which will not be able to be cured by any mechanism.
In last decade, some efforts have been made by the Central and state Governments for achieving the objects of declaring the basic education as fundamental right of children, now, if the governments actually want affirmative action, it is for them to concentrate, on a priority basis, to improve the quality of teachers, infrastructure of the schools etc.
(The writer is an advocate in the Supreme Courtof India. Views expressed are strictly personal.)